Monday, December 3, 2012

Most Disappointing Records Of 2012

I'm not going to spend too many words on why the following records comprise this list. My feeling is the same about most of them. With the exception of Neil's "Americana," Fiona's "The Idler Wheel," and Rickie Lee's "The Devil You Know," three releases I had looked forward to but ultimately found unlistenable, the remaining records simply failed to move me or live up to the hype. I hate hype.

None of these records are terrible. Some have really fine moments and ideas. But I think that's the problem. To paraphrase, what have they done with the songs, Ma? When did simply having an idea become acceptable? Why aren't we demanding more anymore? You're either some brooding singer-songwriter mumbling through your beard over two chords or some hip gang of kids bringing your record collection to life through a series of sounds and samples. The days of combining it all---words, melody, hooks, vocals, musicianship---with brilliant success, seem to be long gone. The appearance of those gifted ones are few and far between.

The following, as far as I can tell, have appeared on many "Best Of" lists, and a few have been given heaps of praise from readers of this blog. I don't get it, just as some of you may not get what ends up on my "Best Of" list, which is coming very soon.

But, here they are, in absolutely no order, the records that left me thinking, "Really? This is great?"

The Allah-Las
Frank Ocean-Channel ORANGE
Tame Impala-Lonerisms
Jack White-Blunderbuss
Norah Jones- Little Broken Hearts
The Shins-Port Of Morrow
The Gaslight Anthem-Handwritten
Grizzly Bear- Shields
Neil Young- Americana
Rickie Lee Jones- The Devil You Know
Fiona Apple- The Idler Wheel

And the biggest baffler of 2012:


Everyone says you need to see them live.  I trust that they may come across better in a live setting. But, a record with such high praise shouldn't come with disclaimers.

While I put the finishing touches on my "Best 20 of 2012," feel free to submit your faves and why over at Burning Love?.


Chris Collins said...

I hate to disagree, but I don't think the Alabama Shakes record is bad. It's not great, by any stretch at all. And they're not doing anything new. But it's a solid record.

Neil Young, on the other hand, put out a pretty terrible record. And I like the Gaslight Anthem (I know you don't) but found this last one unlistenable.

Gene Oberto said...

To prove the hype theory, I knew the names of everyone of those artists. But if you asked me to hum a few bars of any one of their songs, I wouldn't be able to do it. Not one.

I miss the days of hearing a song and, literally waiting to hear it on the radio again to hear the artists name. In my retail experience, I have and had people humming at the counter to try to discover the band who does the song that can't escape your head.

Today's groups should just put out singles or a couple of songs at a time. They are not experienced or talented enough to take a theme and write 10-12 good songs about that theme.

Gyro1966 said...

Sal - That Allah-Las debut really nailed the moody but intense 60's garage sound like few bands have recently. I don't think you're a huge garage 60's fan, which is fine. I find your blog and your reviews interesting, but very very often I don't agree with your taste.

Anonymous said...

Sal, brilliant! So many times you've put into words my own unarticulated thoughts - and you've done it again today. Lack of creativity is clearly infecting all of the arts (and I won't start spouting off about my views on why this is happening) - movie remakes with terrible dialogue dripping with cliches, sitcoms that are full of smug, snide one-liners or, worse, schoolyard bathroom "humor" that isn't remotely amusing - and on and on.

I'd much rather listen to something like Papa Oom Mow Mow by the Rivingtons than most of the pop music released today that takes itself so seriously, without the grounds for doing so. (It makes me laugh when they refer to themselves as "ARTISTS" - talk about puffed-up self-delusion!) . . . See - you certainly got me going today!

Sal Nunziato said...


You couldn't be more off base regarding my feelings about 60's garage rock. I simply recognize that genuine 60's garage rock just happened. It was a throwback. Turning up the tremolo on your guitar and playing some surf riffs is fine and dandy. And as I said in the post, I don't find The Allah-Las "terrible." I just don't think "nailing a sound" deserves 5 star reviews.

Sal Nunziato said...

Correct that: it "wasn't" a throwback.

Gyro1966 said...

Sal - Is the Allah-Las record essential, unique or important? No. But it's a fun record that I find is filled with memorable and haunting 60's garage sounds. My favorite sounds of all time, in fact. I can't take a time machine to 1966 and see The Human Expression in California. But I can see The Allah-Las with their authentic 1966 sound, so I'm grateful for them and their debut. Just the thought of a young band even getting that sound so right is inspiring for me.
I remember seeing a wild Naomi Shelton & Sharon Jones double bill at Maxwells in 2006 or so. I was especially impressed to see so many under 25 year olds going crazy over the music. That inspired me the same way a new young band like The Allah-Lahs inspire me.

Sal Nunziato said...


I understand. I get that. And I appreciate that. But my gushing over a New Orleans moment that was completely personal doesn't make a new record by Anders Osborne essential.

This is not about denying anyone their pleasures. I think it's more about having less to choose from, so what is truly average seems so much better.

Noam Sane said...

At this point, we all know Norah Jones isn't much of a songwriter. She has a great voice, though, and can be wonderful in a group setting. I found this year's Little Willies record to be a lot of fun.

Korla said...

"Today's groups should just put out singles or a couple of songs at a time." I guess they've been saying that since the first records came out.

Anonymous said...

Fiona's album is just wonderful. I choose to look at it as a piano-driven punk record. It's not pretty, but it is brilliant. Once you've listened to the album a third time I don't see how someone couldn't love it. Probably my favorite musical effort of the year.

I do think Frank Ocean's album is a bit overrated. It's a slight twist on most current hip-hip/r&b records, but not enough to be getting the praise it is.

I don't love the Allah-Lah's record. But I liked it well enough. Then again, I've never been a big fan.

Anonymous said...

Sal, amen! I'm a visual artist and your comments could apply equally as well to the modern art world. An "idea" just isn't enough!
I heard Al Shakes on a radio show: interview/live studio performance ~ and immediately went out and got the cd. What a snooze!
Also tried Rickie, sure you were being too hard on her. But no, it was at times painful to listen to.
Looking forward to the best list.

Sal Nunziato said...

I adore Rickie Lee, but this time around, she just sounds unpleasant.

As for Fiona, again, I'm a fan. But it's very hard for me to get around what seems like quirk over quality with this record.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sal, I guess I liked the Frank Ocean and Grizzly Bear records more than you, but wouldn't make huge claims for them. The one on your list that shocks me is the Jack Black record. I genuinely love that record--I'd take it over any of the White Stripes albums. But then I always felt like the Stripes "concept" or whatever was holding him back.

So Taylor Swift's on your best list then?

Bruce H.

Sal Nunziato said...

In response to Chris, Gyro, Anon and Bruce--

I find it interesting that, aside from a "wonderful" for Fiona and a "genuinely loved that record" from Bruce, even the records you kind of disagree with are still given reviews like "not great by any stretch" "fun," and "wouldn't make huge claims."

Don't misunderstand me, not every record needs to a masterpiece, it's just irksome when such critical praise goes towards those that obviously aren't.

Never used to be like that.

Anonymous said...

"Never used to be like that."

I take your broader point, though I'd maybe say "used to be like that much less." I remember the first time I bought a record off a review, a lead rave in Rolling Stone about some singer-songwriter's new album, I think his first name was Andy, played piano, but I can't really remember. This would have been around 1974, 75. Anyway, the review basically said the record was the second coming of Abby Road and, of course, in reality was awful. Think it might have also been the first record I ever sold....

Bruce H

Sal Nunziato said...


Andy Pratt-Resolution?

Let me rephrase my point.

The records that were and are considered great from a pre-MTV era, were great 90-100% of the way.

Post-MTV, if you picked up a record with 4 good songs, you were elated.

The bar hasn't been lowered. It's been buried.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Andy Pratt! I'm going to check out the album again ASAP on spotify. Maybe there's something there I missed at 16.... Are you a fan?

Bruce H.

Sal Nunziato said...

Not a fan of Andy Pratt. His voice turned me off. Love "Avenging Annie," but prefer it by Roger Daltrey.

Jeff Matthews said...

and Gary Clark, Jr.

drstub said...

I frankly dont understand why people react so strongly to Americana !!!! I think Mr. Young's earlier CD this year is just seriously great Crazy Horse romping through interesting takes on classic songs from our collective past;to my ears its great great rock and maybe not so much roll, "folk music"!! I adore the album and think its stronger effort than "the Pill" Hey just my opinion but i love hearing and singing those classics with"The Horse" storming through them!!! As far as the Shakes and the rest, I'm on board All over-rated!!!!

Sal Nunziato said...


I cannot believe I forgot Gary Clark Jr.

Well, at least it's on record--

William Repsher said...

I stated why I though the Alabama Shakes album wasn't bad at all when you originally posted about your disappointment with them -- to me it was just a matter of modern-day indie overhype that accompanies any indie band.

Norah Jones: while the whole album is meh, I love the song "Happy Pills," that silly/hypnotic vocal riff she weaves through the song. And what an album cover!

Jack White: I never expect much from him anyway, which is why after those first two White Stripes albums, any time he does something exceptional, I'm that much more pleased with him, and it doesn't bother me when the majority of his songs really aren't much more than a cool sound he found on the guitar. He's a lot like Westerberg: the never-realized potential to be so much more than he is, but what he is can be phenomenal at times.

I felt myself pretty let down by the new Graham Parker & the Rumour reunion album. The songs just didn't grab me, and I've found more recent solo albums by him more stacked with good songs.

It's hard for me to comment on albums anymore, as I've been corrupted by the digital age and rarely purchase whole albums anymore. I don't consider this a good thing, but like any good degenerate, I still have some recognition of who I am and what I've become. In other words, if the digital age and the rampant freedom it represents had been around in 1978 ... man, I'd own a few thousand less albums and that many more individual tracks!

Anonymous said...

@ Sal, To be honest, I think not enough people visit the blog. Because Fiona's and Frank's albums are probably the two most acclaimed albums of the year and has a lot of fans there who would be willing to battle with you if they knew this site existed.

Sal Nunziato said...

@ Sal, To be honest, I think not enough people visit the blog. Because Fiona's and Frank's albums are probably the two most acclaimed albums of the year and has a lot of fans there who would be willing to battle with you if they knew this site existed.

Hey Anon. Exactly.

Aaron said...

I vote "Kisses on the Bottom" worst album title of 2012.

Sal Nunziato said...


"I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter
And make believe it came from you
I'm gonna write words, oh, so sweet
They're gonna knock me off my feet
Kisses on the bottom
I'll be glad I've got 'em"